Sunday 23 October 2016

'We can hear screams of those still trapped'

Rescue workers pull survivors from the rubble of a collapsed building. Photo: AFP/Getty
Rescue workers pull survivors from the rubble of a collapsed building. Photo: AFP/Getty

The strongest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades flattened buildings and buckled highways along its Pacific coast, sending the Andean nation into a state of emergency.

Officials said at least 238 people were killed and 600 injured, with many still reported trapped beneath collapsed buildings.

The magnitude-7.8 quake, the strongest to hit Ecuador since 1979, was centred on the country's sparsely populated fishing ports and tourist beaches, 170km northwest of the capital, Quito.

Vice-president Jorge Glas said there were deaths in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil, all several hundred kilometres from the centre of the quake, which struck shortly after nightfall on Saturday.


In Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the quake's epicentre, dozens of frightened residents slept in the streets while men equipped with little more than car headlights tried to rescue survivors who could be heard trapped under the rubble.

The mayor of Pedernales, Gabriel Alcivar, pleaded for authorities to send earth-moving machinery and emergency rescue workers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, trapping residents.

He said looting had broken out amid the chaos, but author- ities were too busy trying to save lives to re-establish order.

President Rafael Correa signed a decree declaring a national emergency and rushed home from a visit to Rome.

"Everything can be rebuilt except human lives, and that's the most painful," he said.

Glas said 10,000 soldiers had been deployed to help. In addition, 4,600 police were sent to the towns near the epicentre.

Officials said shelters had been set up and portable hospitals were being deployed.

In Manta, the airport was closed after the control tower collapsed.

Alberto Reynas (58) was fishing off Pedernales when giant waves violently rocked his boat.

He was shaken again when he returned to land to find the facade of his two-story home had fallen into the streets.

He spent the night sleeping outdoors with neighbours, guarding their property against looters.

Luis Quito said he spent the night delivering water to a few guests trapped under the rubble of a small, four-storey hotel owned by his father-in-law, who was missing and feared dead.

"We hear screaming all through the night," said Quito, wailing as he expressed outrage over the slow response of authorities.

"There are people trapped below the terrace. Babies. We need rescuers, but nobody has arrived so far."

In Quito, terrified people fled into the streets as the quake shook buildings.

It knocked out electricity in several neighbourhoods and six homes collapsed.

Among those killed was the driver of a car crushed by an overpass that buckled in Guayaquil, the country's most populous city.


The US Geological Survey originally put the quake at a magnitude of 7.4 then raised it to 7.8. It had a depth of 19km.

David Rothery, a professor of geosciences at The Open University, said the quake was about six times as strong as the most powerful of two deadly earthquakes across the Pacific, in the southernmost of Japan's four main islands.

A magnitude-6.5 quake struck near Kumamoto on Thursday, followed by a magnitude-7.0 28 hours later. The quakes have killed 41 people and injured about 1,500.

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